Free and Easy Newsletter

Spring Edition - April 2014

It's April already! Spring is here (despite the fog) and the summer term is almost upon us. We know that teaching staff will be rushed off their feet at this time of year and we're hoping that taking some time to peruse Free and Easy and gaze at the lovely daffodils will offer some respite.

This month, we're announcing an upcoming event due to be held at the College on behalf of JISC RSC Northern, as well as our new 60 Second Inspiration feature and two great Free and Easy tools that can be used for teaching and learning.

For those new to Middlesbrough College, Free and Easy newsletters are created by the E-Learning team to promote the use of e-learning tools and web based apps for teaching and learning. If you have any questions or would like to contact us, our details are at the bottom of the newsletter.

60 Second Inspiration

This month's 60 Second Inspiration feature is for Blackboard's Retention Centre. It's a great tool for tracking students' progress and monitoring those who may be at risk, as well as monitoring high achievers. Look out for more 60 Second Inspiration videos on our YouTube Channel as we continue to develop this feature and, as always, pop along to our E-Learning office if you have any questions or would like us to show you how to use any of Blackboard's features.
60 Second Inspiration: Retention Centre

JISC Technology Roadshow - 30th June

On 30th June we're opening our doors to the lovely people at JISC RSC Northern and are hosting a JISC Technology Roadshow here at Middlesbrough College.

It will offer you the chance to 'try before you buy' and look at some of the devices and technologies that can be used for teaching and learning, as well as sessions on using technology to create content, create assessments and manage the progression of students.

Throughout the day, the E-Learning team will also be offering a number of taster sessions on various web-based technologies.

The Roadshow will be open to any organisations in the region who work with learning technologies and JISC RSC Northern, so it will also be a chance for us to show others what we do here in the College.

Keep your eyes peeled for further information on the Staff Portal and via Blackboard and Free and Easy nearer the time. More information about JISC RSC Northern can be found below.


This month's first tool is Blendspace, which can be used to create online 'classes'. It is an easy way to arrange materials you want to use for a particular topic. They can be embedded into Blackboard or used on the web to make your content look more visually appealing and exciting.

You can embed YouTube videos, include links to websites and insert images and documents. The content can then be arranged in a particular order, depending on the design you choose for your Blendspace. It is an excellent tool to use for lessons involving independent study, such as our Supported Self Study units and you can monitor learning by having students sign in to leave comments and answer questions within the Blendspace class.

Click here to see an example of a Blendspace that has been used as part of one of our Supported Self Study units. You may even come across some other online tools you like the look of while you're there!

Wolfram Alpha

This tool is available on the web, iOS and Android and, according to the 'goals' on their website, WolframAlpha creators want to "make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone."

The content in WolframAlpha is made up of algorithms for linguistic analysis for over 1000 different domains, over 10 trillion pieces of curated data from original sources, can compute over 50,000 different algorithms & equations and can present data in thousands of different visual forms such as graphs and tables. (And it's continuously being updated!)

The huge knowledge base contained within WolframAlpha covers so many subjects from maths, statistics and chemistry through to health, music, food and nutrition and education. From the home page you can type anything you would like to calculate or know about in the search box to see what information is stored within WolframAlpha's knowledge base or click on some of the images on the home page to see examples of the information records. For example, did you know that the maximum lifespan of a European rabbit is 18 years? Or that humans have 9,000 tatsebuds?

The website and the free versions of the apps could be used for all sorts of lessons, and could be particularly useful for maths and science based subjects. The website and apps will calculate equations or answers to problems that are typed in and show you the process of how to work out the answer. Perfect for learning how to perform complex maths problems.

The Wolfram Group have also developed a number of individual apps such as the Course Assistant Apps for subjects like Algebra and Statistics and the Reference Apps for topics such as Fractions, Stars & Planets and Culinary Mathematics. A lot of the apps have a small charge but using the website version itself is free.

The best thing to do with this resource is to explore it to see what is available and how it would benefit learners in a particular lesson. It would also be very useful for encouraging independent study and research skills.

Twitter: @Wolfram_Alpha

Any questions or suggestions? Contact us!

We're always open to suggestions of apps and tools to feature in Free and Easy, so if you're using something and want to spread the word, please don't hesitate to contact us.

We're also here to answer any questions or queries you may have about any of the tools featured or anything related to Blackboard or e-learning generally. Pop in and see us or contact us using the details below.

If you're reading our print version of Free and Easy...

...don't worry, you can look at all of the links and videos by scanning the QR code on the front or by visiting this link:

Look out for a link in the Teaching & Learning section on the Staff Portal too.